Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done

And by "ever", I mean "since at least, like, a couple months ago or something".

I have roughly 17,000 photos on my computer and a new apartment with bare walls.  I figured I could afford to print and frame (with WalMart $1 frames, mind you) up to 50 photos, a few at a time, and I figured I have enough space to hang those without it being too ridiculous.  So I sat down and set out to pick fifty photos from my 17,000.

In the first round of picks, I had 350.  That's somewhat more than 50.

I took a deep breath, went through my selections, and got rid of all but the finest.

I had 275.

I gritted my teeth.  Eliminated all but the most outstanding.


I tried, through the blur of tears, to keep only one in four.  Only the most precious.


That's when I died a little bit and quit for the night.

As a sea of third parties (well... second, I guess, since up to now it's been just me and my own obsessive psychosis...), which of these stand out the most to you?  Which ones should go on my walls?

Monday, September 13, 2010

You can take the girl out of the nest...

...but you can't take the nest out of the girl.

Point and Match.

The personal debate we've all gone through, which I talked about a little a while ago, has been settled, at least for me.  All my doubts and hesitation are addressed here, and I find the matter quite firmly settled.

While you're at The Crescat, read a little more.  She's hil-a-ri-ous, and very often quite poignant, one of my "always read this" category.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

About 25% of 5-year-olds in the U.S. are Hispanic

According to this article, this year's class of kindergarteners are, as a group, about 53% white, down from 59% five years ago, while Hispanic students are up from 19% in 2000 to 25% this year, outnumbering black students of the same age by almost 2 to 1.

This belongs on my blog for two reasons:

1) The increase in the population of Latinos in the United States is a huge factor in some of the work Notre Dame is doing right now, and especially in what we're doing with the ACE Academies.  Combine the present national high school graduation rate for Latino students (less than 50%, depending on exactly who you ask) with the number of Latino students in the nation, and it doesn't take much specialized knowledge to guess what unfortunate fruits that coupling will eventually bear.

2) The article made me laugh out loud.  I'm quite sure it was unintentional and that the writer bears no malice toward Latinos.  Nonetheless, some of the phrasing made it sound like we're somewhat similar to a hoard of locusts, or we're carefully coordinating a slow invasion.  My favorite example (emphasis mine):
In addition, more Hispanic children are likely because the number of Hispanic girls entering childbearing years is up more than 30% this decade, Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute says. "It's only the beginning."
Hide your children!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

**EDIT:  Dear AT&T text messaging: Thanks for making my hilarious story via text message into truncated nonsense.  You're great.

Dear Readers: I've edited the story.  It should make sense now.**

Fish: I think I'll buy this shirt.
Me: It's cute, but it looks big.
F: Yeah, but all the smalls have things like I love my grandma and teddy bears and stuff.
Me: Well, don't you love your grandma?
F (emphatically): Sure, but that's not what Vegas is all about!  Unless you're talking about gambling grannies carrying teddy bears.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Funny and Kinda True

Fr. Joe and I met about a year and a half ago when I went to him for confession at an ACE retreat, saw he was wearing a Salesian pin, and spent twenty minutes talking about how much we love the sisters before we even got to my confession.  He was taught by them as a child and has stayed part of the family ever since (once a Salesian, always a Salesian!), so he knows most of the sisters I know.  Now that we work together, he and I will not uncommonly have sessions consisting mostly of gushing about the Salesians.  He recently returned from a trip to Mexico and then to the first profession of vows for the new Salesian sisters.

Fr. Joe:
 Wouldn't it be great to take a bunch of ACE people down to Mexico City?  Just to learn about Mexico and the people and how it all affects what we do here.
Me: Yeah!  I mean, we've got this whole campaign that kinda centers on that.  Let me help you with that if it happens.
Fr. Joe: I'm going to think about that.  It's not very expensive, either.
Me: And I bet you could get a benefactor to help fund it, or even cover the whole thing.
Fr. Joe: It's very possible.

(He leaves, then pops his head back in my door as he returns to his office, wearing a mischievous grin.)

Fr. Joe: You know, I can tell you're loosing your Salesian roots.  The sisters would have said, "Maybe we can have a bake sale to help raise the money".  You say, "Just get a benefactor!"  That's Notre Dame talking.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I  got a package in the mail today.

It was from my mom.  This is the only vanilla I have ever, in the history of my recollection, seen in our cupboard at home.  There is no other kind.  My Mama is no slouch at cooking, so generally, if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me.  She's also already sent me a set of brand new pots and pans, also the kind she uses and swears by.

And I mean that literally.  If you wanted to make sure you were getting my mom's good word on something, pull our her red enamel skillet.

Like I said, she's no culinary novice, which is what made the other item in this package worth more than the shiny new pots.  Pirate's Pantry was probably the source of more of my meals growing up than any other single volume. 

These are south Louisiana family recipes, which is synonymous with "delectable".


It was a gift to my dad when they were courting.

And now it's mine.

This is my kind of cookbook.  This is 90% of everything good I've ever eaten.  The book itself is a memory.  The contents could be a family history.

Mama says you can tell which pages have the best recipes because they're covered in food stains.

This one has taken the place of a birthday cake for me for at least the last five years.

Today was a good mail day.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hear Me Roar

Last Saturday, my apartment looked like this.  Later that day, through the generosity of my (now former) roommate and the donated labor of his summer roommates, I added a couch to the middle of my then expansive living space.

I carried almost everything else in solo.  Every box from my car and each piece of furniture, basically every scrap of material possession in this place, was carried in by my scrawny little arms.  Before that, I packed the entire contents of my bedroom and classroom in Brownsville in my Corolla with my own two hands and my own Target-sandaled feet.

Not only that, but I built three of the furniture pieces with my black and yellow tools.  I sweat and I slaved and I tasted the fruits of industry - and they were sweet, my friends.

Less than a week after moving in, I had unpacked every last box and placed every last item.  I'm out-pacing Rome by a long shot, and I even gave the Lord a run for his money.  And now, a week and a day later, my apartment looks like this:

And I did all of these things by myself.  And what is more, I did somewhere between 60-75% of these things in a skirt. I defy any man to make the same claim.

And so, I claim the voice of the speaker in this ballad as my own, and I stand on my duck-crap covered patio, stand tall and dehydrated, and proclaim in an unwavering voice, "I am woman!  See me build a table."


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Reason I'll Miss This Place

The people I work with are funny.  In reference to our faculty end-of-the-year barbecue tonight:

Boss: You know, if any of your roommates want to come, they're welcome.
Me: Well, it's just me and Jackie left, but thanks.
Boss:  Well, then just bring any vagrant you see!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sharp Relief

(Written Friday afternoon.)

The 8th graders are taking their finals in my classroom in the mornings, so I've been teaching in a different room most of the time this week.  Yesterday was my last time teaching in the classroom I've inhabited for the last two years, and at the beginning of class I mentioned this to the 7th graders.

Mistake.   I thought I was sentimental.  Apparently I've got nothing on these kids, especially the girls.

First, during prayer, they produced a lengthy and moving string of prayers in thanks for me and my fellow ACEr at my school, and for our well-being as we move on.

Then they started sneaking up to the board while my back was turned working with other students and writing all kinds of sweetness.  All the while they were telling me how much they're going to miss me and asking if I might come back for their graduation next year.

Then Daniela walks up to me and very frankly, sweetly, sincerely, says, "Ma'am, thank you."

I kept it together just long enough to say, "You're welcome, Daniela," and send her back to work.  Then I went and sat behind my desk and put on my best poker face.

Then Judith looks up and catches the suddenly watery nature of my eyes and says, in Spanish, "Look, she's about to cry!"

They all went, "Awwww!" and got up and surrounded me and hugged me.  And then I lost it.

Then I told them they were jerks, and one of them goes, "But we're your jerks!"

They've been teasing me about it since.  When I got  out of my car with my sunglasses on this morning, Ivette smirked and said, "You know why she's wearing those glasses..."

Today, I taught my last class for the foreseeable future.  I'm sitting in an empty classroom, for once not relishing the peace but wishing for a few more minutes of pandemonium.  I'm pretty positive I'll find my way back to a classroom sometime, but I have no idea how long from now that will be.  This is strange, because if you had asked me even ten months ago if I thought I might not be in a classroom next year, I would have said no way.  And yet, here I go, off to sit at a desk, not working with kids.  It's putting me in a weird state of mind -- I'm not having second thoughts, and yet I am wondering what the hell I'm thinking leaving the classroom.
  My heart aches a little.

Teaching is such a weird occupation, at least for me.  It takes everything I've got, provides minimal or invisible returns, and I love it.  Love it.  It consumes most of my energy, time, and thought, and well beyond my oft-stated belief that education is a human right.  It's the act of teaching, the process of writing plans, being in the classroom, dealing with kids, nudging, prodding, pushing, questioning, challenging them, getting to know them, laughing with them, reigning in my impulsive reactions ("What in the hell are you thinking?!"), pulling my hair out, wondering what I'm doing wrong, trying to do it better, catching glimmers of sanity, the mild shock when a kid suddenly looks and acts a little bit older, a little more mature, and the very normal, unassuming, undramatic* little blip of satisfaction, encouragement, and hope when a kid does well.  Every shade on the human spectrum of emotion, every week.

I'm not having second thoughts about the new job, and I am still just as excited about it as I was in March when I got the offer.  I've no doubt it's where I'm supposed to go.  There are (at least) two sides to everything, though, and the flip side of this coin is very much in focus right now.  This blog is named Theophany because of my constant wonder at the ways God reveals himself in the world, and I have encountered him in the most mundane and profound ways in this profession.  For the last three and a half years, even as I've fought the impulse to beat my head on a desk, I've loved it and felt right doing it.

I have one more final to give and some miscellaneous old work to grade.  I need to tear down and pack up my classroom.  And that's it.  Two weeks from now, I'll be taking up permanent residence in an office at Notre Dame, not a classroom anywhere.  It is the definition of bittersweet.

*This, incidentally, is why I sort of hate most Inspiring Teacher Movies

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Miss List - Edited

(Originally posted May 12.  Updated now and again until the end of the school year. New items in bold.)

In the weeks since I officially decided to take this job at Notre Dame and knew, therefor, that I would not be teaching next year, there has naturally been at least one incident everyday that makes me wonder why in the world I am leaving the classroom.

There has also been at least one moment everyday when I think, "I will not miss that at all."

I think I am actually rather grateful for this, because without the occasional thought to the elements of my profession with which I am not, shall we say, enamored, I would be a blubbering mass of tears and snot at the thought of leaving.  At the same time, if I were to leave teaching and be really gleeful about it, it would cast a depressing light on these last three years (or more, depending how you count), and I don't think they'd want me where I'm going, either.

So it's all about balance here.  As always.  I am the queen of balance.

Thus, below is a list of both "Things I Will NOT Miss" and "Things I Will Miss".  I intend to update this post whenever these things occur to me.  Of course, we all know my posting track record.  My intentions and actions almost never match up.

Things I Will NOT Miss
  1. Eye rolling
  2. 500 reasons a day to give them The Look.
  3. Eau de After PE Class
  4. Finding the work I just assigned.  On the floor. Without a name.
  5. Being asked, "Ma'am, do you believe in aliens?  It's in the Bible," in the middle of a vocab quiz
  6. Having eight kids all yelling my name at the same time and all expecting my full attention right that moment.
  7. Having seven kids simultaneously become unbearably indignant because I paid attention to someone else.
  8. Writing finals
  9. Grading anything.  Especially finals.  Ugh.
  10. And grading late work.
  11. And grading.
  12. Did I mention grading?

Things I WILL Miss
  1. The "I Get It!" look!
  2. Giving them The Look.
  3. The look on their faces when I give them The Look
  4. Being asked, "Ma'am, do you believe in aliens?  It's in the Bible," in the middle of a vocab quiz
  5. The chorus of voices that responds in perfectly trained harmony of cadence when I say, "Good morning, 7th grade!" ("Gooood mOOOOOrning Miiiiss-Ciiiiis-neee-roooooos!")
  6. The (rare) moment when pandemonium breaks out in class because they're excited about something.
  7. Telling a senior who went to my school years ago and who I did a mission trip with that he should turn down MIT for ND, and Penn is a good third choice.
  8. Pretending I knew the Yankees had won before Jose walks in the door high-fiving me.
  9. Having an excuse to get nerdily excited about a poem (I'm trying to get them excited... really...). 
  10. Looking at a kid in May, remembering how the same kid was in August, and being struck speechless by how proud I am of said kid for coming so far.
  11. Guillermo yelling, "Ma'am, I love you!" every time he leaves my class or sees me in the hall.
  12. Kids coming up to me after they finish a book I recommended and saying, "Ma'am, you were right, that book was so great!"
  13. Realizing after the fact they enjoyed and connected with an activity I thought at the time was a disaster.
  14. Field trips and seeing the kids in a different context.
  15. Messing with their heads (Example: "You'll be fine.  Unless of course you fail."  "Yh-- Wait, what?"  "What?"  "Ma'am, what did you say?!"  "George Washington.")

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I Leave Gchat Open

My sister is home sick and it's my planning period.  This gchat conversation just happened.

: lol
12:03 PM omm that was HIlarious!
 me: figured you'd like that :)
  On a scale of one to "Uggggggghhhhh gross blaaaaah", how are you feeling?
12:04 PM Melissa: pretty good. just coughish
  btw, omm is oh my meatballs
12:05 PM me: i thought it was a typo
  wait, why would anyone say oh my meatballs???
 Melissa: 'gosh' is just used to death. + i <3 meatballs
12:06 PM me: did you invent this phrase?
 Melissa: yes.
 me: Of course.
 Melissa: XD

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"That Showed 'Em"

My friend Ginna, whom I respect and admire more than I have probably made known to her, send this:

This book sounds interesting: http://article.nationalreview.com/434242/raquel-welchs-sexiest-storyline-yet/kathryn-jean-lopez

This is my favorite part of the review of the book: "In an otherwise largely celebratory forum on the pill at CNN's website, Republican strategist and book publisher Mary Matalin cleverly and jarringly wrote: 'Packages of portable liberation ushered in a generation of women determined to break free from their inferior patriarchal oppressors. And how did they manifest their superiority? Their freedom? Thanks to The Pill, by casual, drive-by sex. Whoa. That really showed those stupid boys.' "

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I am About

"For me," Canada said, "the big question in America is: Are we going to try to make this country a true meritocracy?  Or will we forever have a class of people in America who essentially won't be able to compete, because the game is fixed against them? [...] There's no way that is good conscience we can allow poverty to remain the dividing line between success and failure in this country, where if you're born poor in a community like this one [Harlem], you stay poor.  We have to even that out.  We ought to give these kids a chance."
-Geoffrey Canada, as quoted in Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes. Emphasis mine.

Confession: I have a little bit of what might be called survivor's guilt, or something akin to it.  Statistically, kids like me -- Latinos, children of immigrants, and immigrants themselves -- have a higher drop-out rate than any other group (17%, while white youth are at about 6%, and Latinos make up 40% of all drop-outs).  Those who do finish high school are still less likely to attend college, and those who do are less likely again to finish in four years, if they finish at all.  Meanwhile, here I sit four days from having my Master's Degree conferred and a month away from working for a university (and not in the dining hall).  I've spent a lot of time pondering the fortunate happenstance of my upbringing, the features of my childhood that planted me squarely on the road to higher education.

As far as I can tell, it was pure, unthinking luck on my part.  I happened to have the father I have, to live the places I lived, to have certain opportunities plop themselves in front of me.  I spent most of my childhood, nomadic though it was, in middle-class white neighborhoods, and I got all the perks that come with that.  I am where I am now largely, maybe primarily, because I got lucky as a kid.  Other kids not so different from me are struggling because they lived in a different neighborhood and got a different education.

Second confession, related to the first: that hits me as incredibly unfair, and it sticks in my craw.

There is much debate on why the poor are poor.  I'm leaving that debate aside for now, because it is entirely irrelevant to my point: no one in their right mind or with a mustard seed of compassion is going to blame a third grader if she can't read.  No one can possibly blame the five year old from a working class family because he starts kindergarten already at a disadvantage compared to his middle class peers. You might be able to place responsibility for an adult's situation in life on the adult because, of course, choices have consequences and people do make some truly terrible choices.

The thing is, there are a lot of kids out there suffering the consequences of someone else's choices.  A lot of these kids aren't squandering their opportunities, they don't have opportunities.  That's not okay.

This reality distracts me during faculty meetings and catches my wandering thoughts when I drive down the road.  I high-jack conversations at parties to talk about it.  It's why I'm moving up to Notre Dame and passing on any of several possibilities to stay in Texas near my family (with whom, as you must know if you've read this at all, I am totally obsessed).  Because the piece of dirt a child lives on should not determine what is and is not available to her. As a human being, and especially as a Catholic, there is no way I can sit comfortably in my good fortune when so many children in my own country are effectively being denied a decent education.

Because every kid should at least have a chance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One line that makes me think

I think we've all wondered about this: when you pull up to a light and there's someone there with a cardboard sign and a cup, what do you do?

I share the concern that by handing some of these people money, I might be providing their next fix and perpetuating an addiction.  It's happened at least once: in college, while waiting for a friend at a train station, a woman came up to me and said she was almost out of gas and she just needed a few dollars to be able to get home.  I gave her whatever bill I had in my wallet.  After my friend emerged and we were on our way, he mentioned one of the employees inside warned him about a woman who hangs around at night asking for gas money, which she does not spend on gas.  I fumed a bit.

And yet, I am never comfortable passing those people by.  I do it rather frequently.  But it's never a good feeling.

One of my little siblings' godmother (were the type of family where you eventually lose track of who exactly is godparenting who) says, "What I do with my money is between me and God.  What they do with it is between them and God."

And today I read this article -- which is great on several levels -- that includes this line:

Jesus didn't say, "Feed the deserving." He just said, "Feed the hungry."


Friday, April 30, 2010

Best Compliment (?) Ever

"Ma'am, you'd make a pimp sister."

*Pimp has become one of the many synonyms for cool.  Somewhat akin to bad ass.
**Yes, she meant religious, sister-in-a-habit, sister.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spy Wednesday

8th grade got a little off track today.  One of the boys asked what Jesus "did" that saved us, making the distinction between teaching and salvation.  It being a Catholic school, and this being Holy Week, and that being an important question, I tried to give him an answer, which spawned more questions, and so it went.  One boy eventually asked, "Why did Judas betray Jesus?"

Good question, kid (They're full of those).

I've wondered this off and on over the years (the "on" usually being right about this time during Holy Week), and I've never been able to come up with an answer. I can think of possibilities.  None stand out as particularly motivating, at least not to me, who spends much more time wishing the be close to Jesus, but of course I'm looking at it from the comfort of certainty and 2,000 years temporal distance.

And yet, I wonder about that certainty bit.  So many Christians try to make Jesus in their own image -- style him into something that fits their existing view of the world and how things are and how things ought to be.  I'd wager a majority of believing Christians are pretty certain they have the right conception of who and what Jesus is, but of course with all those different variations, someone is going to be wrong.

So, I wonder if Judas wasn't just another of us trying to make his messiah what he was supposed to be, doggonit, and fed up that he wasn't or frustrated with events that weren't going the way he'd have liked, and decided he was going to do something, anything.  And like all of us when we sin, he thought he was doing a good thing. He thought he knew better than Jesus, Christ or no Christ.

I'm not making light of the betrayal, and neither do I attempt to outline mitigating factors of the willful catalyst in the crucifixion of the Son of God.  It's simpler than that -- it's an observation of how alike so much sin is, and the suggestion that perhaps we are not so different from Judas ourselves.

Tomorrow evening, we gather 'round the table and break bread with our Lord, and like every other Mass, there will be John's and Peter's -- and Judas's.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Logophilia Relapse

When I was a kid, nothing on earth or in heaven could keep me from reading.  I was the kid reading under the desk instead of listening in class -- ironically, the kid I now have to correct, though I feel her pain.

College, though, brought upon me the same ill as so many other readers: the high volume of required reading took some of the joy out and simultaneously gave me less time for leisure reading.  The first year of teaching didn't give me space to work on that, and I spent most of last year laboring through One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book I loved but couldn't plow through and yet I refused to read anything else at the same time.

Since August, though, I've started plowing through again.  And it has been wonderful.  It's like being reunited with a dear old friend, except this friend is an addiction.  I've gotten back to the point where I have to be reading, and when I'm doing anything else, I'm thinking about my current volume and when I'll be able to read again.

There's not much point to this, except to note a curious side effect: the impulse to write has also been making a comeback.  Mostly in handwritten notes and ponderings in margins and notebooks, but this might bode well for this neglected old blog.  I know -- I've said it before.  I've left you hanging.  I'm not making any promises just observations.

Now, off to battle this recent bout of insomnia with a cup of tea and a book...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Such Wisdom!

Confession: I stay logged into gchat on my Gmail all day.  Mostly, I read people's statuses between classes.  My dear frien Ginna (not, mind you, Gina or Jenna), who teaches 7th grade in Mississippi, has some funny kids -- I just had to share this:

"You need to get a husband.  Actually, first you need to get your feet under you by figuring out your financial situation."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yes, I'm Alive, Yes, I Still Love Teaching, and Yes, I'm Still Very Opinionated.

My poor mother.  All she wants from me is a blog update, and I fail her daily.  I don't like writing if I don't have something worthwhile to say, which I usually feel like I don't.  Sometimes, I feel I don't have the time to craft something.  Well, that is until I get on Facebook, see a discussion I feel the need to get involved in, and end up writing something I'm actually pretty proud of (in a comment window in ten minutes).

I am proud to be a teacher.  Some of the people I've worked with, some I've studied with, and some of the unbelievable women in my family have shown me what it means to be a teacher.  It disinclines me to make many excuses for my profession.

A few notes: My writing was part of a conversation that spanned a day or two, so I've preserved it as such, removing names.  Also, I have edited out a few choice phrases and rephrased a couple things in my own writing for clarity.  No changes to content.  Please remember this is Facebook, where conventions of writing are applied creatively.

My friend R: YES - Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers
[Note: I have yet to actually read the article; all my comments were in direct response to others.]

R's friend D: "Many more teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Maybe they'd get more respect if the truly bad teachers were let go."
Girl, I hate this article.

R: haha, must have missed that part when i was reading it between classes this morning. but i've seen firsthand too many schools where AWFUL teachers will never be fired... something needs to change.

Me: AGREE!! If teaching is supposed to be a profession, then the bad professionals don't get to keep their jobs.

D: Here's your problem -- How do you determine a "bad" teacher? Test scores? Because that's currently the way the public school system judges teacher performance, and it's piss poor. Teachers shouldn't be punished for students who are bad testtakers. Furthermore, teachers shouldn't be encouraged to teach to fit a standarized test instead of teaching so that students can learn the material.
And the answer of a drastic teachers shortage in the United States shouldn't be the mass-firing of teachers.
R: no, i'm not talking about standardized tests. bad teachers - the ones i've seen and/or heard about - are the ones who show movies everyday instead of teaching (true story: some of my students have watched Borat and The House Bunny during other classes). they're the ones who are teaching middle school literature & language arts, and cannot even write a paragraph of their own that is free of grammar and spelling errors. they're the ones that have no background in math or science and yet are allowed to teach advanced courses in these areas to high school students. i know that this type of stuff can't be easily quantified, but we need to find a way to increase accountability. i wouldn't mind staying an extra 25 min everyday and eating lunch with the kids once a week.
Me: (R, I'm sorry I'm ranting on your wall.)

Two things - One, As R points out, the teachers at that school in Rhode Island *refused* to put in any extra time because it wasn't in their contract. Contract my hind foot.  It's your JOB to help these KIDS. Teaching is plagued by indifference and an obnoxious martyr mentality (although it also has so many gifted, enthusiastic, giving people), and I have no qualms or hesitation saying they need to get the hell out of the classroom.

Second, the undeniable difficulty in quantifying good teaching does not mean we can shrug and let troops of indifferent non-teachers stay in the classroom. Some teachers are objectively, obviously BAD, and they should not have a job. Yes, many of the current teacher evaluation systems leave much to be desired. Find a better way to evaluate teachers. Do it case by case. No excuses for anyone, teachers or administrators (or students, but that's a separate issue).

Some states are experimenting with new ways of using test scores to evaluate teachers. First, they're evaluating individual teachers instead of whole schools. Then, they're measuring individual student *growth*. For example, if a teacher has a kid who comes in two grade levels behind and then tests half a grade level behind after having that teacher, the teacher get rewarded for the time-and-a-half gains of the student, not punished because the student is still behind. Even if a kid is a bad test taker, she should still show gains. It's not perfect. But it's better than nothing.
My friend B: You're both right that it's not easily quantifiable. But anyone in education can tell you that it's EASY to qualitatively distinguish a good teacher from a bad teacher. Just spend an hour in the classroom and watch what happens. 
D: And qualitative evidence is inherently subjective. Your version of a bad teacher won't look like mine. And who draws the line when a teacher becomes "unacceptably bad"? How many people have to agree?

And Andrea, actually I'd argue that using test scores as a measure of a teacher's ability is actually worse than the current system, because test scores really have ****-all to do with whether the kids are actually learning or not.

And who decides that teachers are obligated to do everything they can to help kids? Last time I checked, parents need to step in at some point. Teachers' employment contracts don't obligate them to become babysitters, psychiatrists, etc. Maybe if teachers are compensated like lawyers and accountants, you can expect them to put in big law firm hours. Until then, to obligate them to do whatever they can to help a student, and branding them a "bad" teacher if they want to actually stick to their work hours, is insane. Their job is to come in prepared, teach lessons, give grades, and manage parents. They aren't nannies or afterschool care providers.
R: sure, the job is to come in prepared, teach lessons, give grades, and manage parents. (a) what about the teachers who don't even do those things? the ones who are unprepared, let the kids goof off for 50 minutes, then bolt as soon as the final bell rings (even though their contracts require them to stay another half an hour)? those are the ones i would like to label as "bad" teachers, and the ones i would like to see fired. or at least given SOME kind of consequences, because there are currently none. and (b) i think this article is pointing out (and i would agree) that the teachers who get the best results are the ones who go above and beyond this job description and actually care about their students and their learning... no way that teachers can be required to do this, of course, but it's nice to dream. 
Me: (Sorry again, R!)

B! I miss you. Well put. Sure, there are problems with subjectivity, but sometimes (...too often) it's SO OBVIOUSLY BAD, it's easy to see a particular teacher needs to go. Yeah, there's a gray area. But we KNOW what good teaching does and what it looks like (and it can look a lot of ways). We're educators -- we're supposed to know how to set objectives and create rubrics for evaluations. Why can't we do that for teachers? You set a standard, you stick to it, and the professionals will work to meet it.

D, you're saying we need to use quantifiable data to assess student learning, but tests (usually) aren't reliable indicators of student learning. I agree on both counts. The solution is to fix the way testing is conducted, used, and thought about (which ABSOLUTELY needs to happen, esp. in public schools), not ditch testing all together. How else can we assess how well our children are learning? That's an honest question; if anyone has a better idea, please speak up because testing it fraught with serious issues. It's also effectively our only option.

Perhaps the biggest problem in education today is that educators don't think of themselves as professionals -- and neither does anyone else. The way many teachers perform and the way they talk about their work, I can't blame the general population. There is one real, credible way to fix that: act like a professional. Act like what you do is more than a set of tasks and obligations to check off. Act like it matters. Teaching is not like any other occupation. Multiple studies in the last couple of years have shown that the single greatest influence on a student's learning is the teacher -- not the school, not the money spent per pupil, not the parents. Teachers don't deal with bottom lines and action items. We deal with people. Children. Not just their brains, either, the whole kid. So I don't buy that teachers aren't obligated to go the extra mile. No, we shouldn't kill ourselves -- we truly can only do so much. But we should be willing to work pretty damn hard.

Then maybe the rest of the country would take us teachers more seriously, eh?
Me (again): R, I think we were typing at the same time. Yes -- there's an ideal, and there's a minimum, and there's all the teachers who don't even try. Great is preferable, but good is still good. Outstanding may be rare, but awful is still awful.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's not such a bad life I lead.

Since the it is a perfect day in south Texas and the Brownsville library has this lovely courtyard, I guess I don't mind grading.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Joke and a Very Brief Update

So I went to Israel.  It was amazing.  A month later, I'm still trying to find the words to describe what that experience was like.  Perhaps in the coming days, I'll start posting pictures and telling the story one moment at a time.

It's test day in 7th grade language arts, which means I'm taking care of odds and end in between circulating around the room answering questions.  At the end of 2nd period, when everyone was finally done and we were chatting about how it went, this non sequiter exchange occurred:

D: Ma'am, do you want to hear a joke?
Me: I would love to hear a joke.
D: What did the bar tender say to the neutron?
Me: What?
D: No charge for you!

I laughed.  I've heard that joke since I was 12, but somehow it's truly hilarious coming from a 7th graders when he's supposed to be thinking about his Catholic School's Week essay.